Are Spanish Smart Cities also smart during summer holidays?

I wrote this post at the beginning of summer vacation for millions of workers was starting. I warned both Spanish citizens who are traveling outside and the millions of tourists who come to visit our beautiful country these months began to fret over news on strikes affecting airlines, rail services, taxis, street cleaning services,garbage ... that may alter the long-awaited vacation.

Now that we are finishing the quintessential month for vacation I am going to analyze at a high level if Spanish cities giving it the title of smart cities are providing the same quality of services to both inhabitants who remained in the city and visitors who have come to enjoy a few days of leisure during the summer holidays.

While we all have our own version or opinion for what it takes for a city to be considered "smart," it is important that digital innovation in smart cities must be inhabitants and visitors oriented. Ideally quality of municipal services like traffic, street lighting, gardens, local police, pollution, cleaning and waste collection and weather services should be scored by the people who use it and city council take actions to guarantee.

In this interesting article Ricardo Estevez, advocates for define how we measure and how to classify the candidate cities to Smart Cities. According with Ricardo, the standardization of criteria and procedures developed jointly by private and public entities helps to match the needs of the managers of the city with existing solutions on the market. I will also add that in the metrics and in the procedures do not forget to include user in the metrics and procedures.

As you can read in this Sine-Wave blog, as Europeans, we must be proud to lead in smart city innovations. And according to Fast Company, Barcelona is number 5 in the top 10 smart cities for Europe in 2013. Probably that’s why Schneider Electric and Cisco are to invest €37m to set up a Smart City innovation hub in Barcelona.

Note: As I did not visited Barcelona in August to compare I will appreciate your comments if you have notice reduction in the quality of “smart” services.

Until now Smart Cities projects have been awarded to Technology companies and Telecom Operators that were more interested in sell their Smart City Platform technological solution and to deploy as much sensors as the city budget allow. From outside will seem that majors and city council was looking more appearing in the picture and win the next election that ensure sustainable development and quality of city services.

I begin my analysis visiting the web of some of the 54 smart cities (yes you read well 54) that are currently part of the Spanish Network of Smart Cities (RECI).

As I suspected every smart city has a different landing page and different user Interface. It is complicate the navigation and not easy to find what smart city services is offering and how to use it. Maybe is because many smart city projects are just pilots. Other issue is that content is in some webs only in Spanish (Castilian) and in some cases only in English and the other regional language (Catalan, Gallego,…). What about the millions of tourist that we want to attract to our smart cities and do not necessarily speak English.

My next step was to analyze what Open Data and what platform is used "first, to help city managers analyze trend data and engage in predictive problem-solving, second to evaluate how much residents can access this and other types of information effortlessly and third, to share the platform with cities that cannot build the capacity themselves. 

Because Santander is considered as a living experimental laboratory with 10,000 permanently sensors installed, after the city received nearly €9 million ($11.7 million) in research money, most of it from the EU, to develop a prototype smart city. I decided to focus on Santander ( ). Unless you are a developer the portal is useless. How can I go and download any application that I can use this summer?  And of course the web is only in Spanish. Make no sense to spend more time with the 53 smart cities.

Note: The sensors are hidden inside small gray boxes attached to street lamps, poles and building walls. Some are even buried beneath the asphalt of parking lots.

Finally I have evaluated mobile applications using Barcelona (capital of MWC is a plus for attract many mobile start ups) as a reference to follow by the rest of the smart cities not only in Spain. His website gives you information on all the services that the Council puts at your disposal for use on your mobile phones. You will find 4 types of service:

  • Mobile apps that you can download from the markets, depending on the platform: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry.
  • Web apps specifically adapted for mobile phones and which you can access from your mobile's browser
  • SMS services that you can use by sending an SMS to 217010
  • SMS alerts that we can send you free, depending on the service you have subscribed to.

Generally speaking the smart city services do not suffer a drop in quality in August because the services are still emerging, but it will magnificent that those city responsible would take it into account for the future.

I live in one of the 54 smart cities in Spain. I was laughing when an unknown citizen of a US smart city wrote a post some days ago describing the same frustration I have every day waiting in a traffic light an eternity for green in a traffic light when nobody is crossing.  Smart cities have been managing annual budgets for decades, and their politics know how to distribute the money into brick and mortar services. But digital and smart city services need other treatment and it will be better than sooner than later they learn to better manage our taxes.

Whether you have enjoyed your holidays in a Smart City or any location of your choice, thanks for keep reading and sharing my posts.

See you in September.


 Article by Francisco Maroto